It’s hard to say there are positives to survey over after the Suns finished off their first winless month in franchise history, but in a season focused on the development of their young core compared to actual wins and losses two of those pieces are taking strides forward.
Even though the Suns have obviously struggled mightily without Devin Booker (hand) and T.J. Warren (knee), it might have been a blessing in disguise to throw Josh Jackson straight into the fire over this final stretch as their top scoring option.
Over the course of March, Jackson capped off the best month of his career thus far in awesome fashion. Even though Gerald Green ruined this moment for him a few seconds later, this moment will be huge when looking back this time next season.
Josh Jackson hits his first career go-ahead shot over Clint Capela with 1.4 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/QTkoHKQp7p— Evan Sidery (@esidery) March 31, 2018
Not only did Jackson convert that go-ahead shot over the outstretched arms of Clint Capela alongside another strong scoring night with 27 points, but he has continued to keep the momentum going over the last few weeks.
Jackson averaged 17.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.7 steals this month. Compared to where he was in November and December, this type of turnaround is kind of unprecedented, isn't it?
I've mentioned this career arch before, but Jackson is looking a lot like how Brandon Ingram finished off his rookie campaign last season. Through the first three months, Ingram’s shot wasn't falling and that made many Laker fans prepared to duck and run for cover. However, as young prospects tend to, Ingram proved those doubters wrong with a strong finish from February-April.
Ironically, Jackson is going down a nearly identical path.
Putting Jackson’s strong month into further perspective, check out all the career accolades he matched or exceeded. Not only did he score a career-high 36 points on his mentor Draymond Green and the Warriors, but he also scored 15+ points in 9 straight games and counting.
Also, Jackson has been seeing more opportunities to show off his above-average passing ability that we saw often during his lone year in college at Kansas. Before March, Jackson only recorded 5 assists once but he matched that twice over.
Since the All-Star Break about 6 weeks ago, Jackson is one of only eight players league-wide averaging 17-5-2-1. The others are LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, Nikola Jokic, Jrue Holiday, and Tobias Harris.
That alone should let you know the steps Jackson has taken since then and he’s still developing his scoring at a rapid rate. It depends on the game with his jump shot at the moment, but if that finds consistency Jackson is flashing way more 20 ppg potential quicker than I realized.
Even though Jackson is looking more and more legit by the game, it would be hard to not speak on the obvious on-court adjustments Marquese Chriss has undergone over the past week plus.
Chriss looks completely different as of late averaging 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 53.1% over his last 5 games. Not only is that very encouraging development path but it’s turning #TheTimeline hierarchy on its head.
After one of the worst rough patches he’s experienced so far in his career, which includes setbacks at almost every stop, Chriss has seemed to finally find consistency when he needed it most.
In February when general manager Ryan McDonough spoke on his weekly radio hit, he specifically mentioned Chriss as far as watching to see if he can prove his worth past this Phoenix. It took a little longer than expected, but the flashes we saw from Chriss in early January are resurfacing almost three months later.
If Chriss is able to maintain his consistency as an improved shot blocker, especially coming from the weakside, alongside attacking the glass more aggressively he could be a sleeper pick to break out of his shell if the right roster is around him.
Especially if the Suns were to land a transcendent ball handler in this upcoming draft, Chriss could be in line to see the easiest looks of his career if the rest of the core continues to take steps in the right direction. At the moment, I’m starting to put small investments in the idea that Chriss could jump to a player who averages around 11 points, 7 rebounds, and over a block + steal per game in his third season.
One area that could fly under the radar right now with Chriss is his instantaneous improvements with verticality and avoiding foul trouble in starter minutes. From January-March, there is a trend occurring where Chriss seems to be realizing how to fix this issue himself.
January: 20 fouls in 171 minutes (7 games)
February: 30 fouls in 171 minutes (10 games)
March: 29 fouls in 317 minutes (14 games)
Taking a gander at how those two minutes scale out to March, that’s a massive differential for Chriss.
Heading into an all-important summer for him after quickly getting out of shape on his own before Summer League last year, Chriss will need to continue this positive trend into his third year.
Even though the 50th season of Suns basketball has been one full of futility, the progress from Jackson and Chriss even without their two primary scorers on the floor signals the ship is slowly steering in the right direction.
Now, it’s all about how these pieces grow together and how management places the right pieces around them to expand their games to new horizons.